The Loom

Metaphor, Me-ta-phor!

Readers of the Loom may recall an earlier post about how creationists (including proponents of Intelligent Design) misleadingly cite peer-reviewed scientific research in order to make their own claims sound more persuasive. I mentioned that when the scientists themselves find out their research has been misrepresented, they groan and protest.

In case you thought I was exaggerating, check out National Academy of Science president’s Bruce Albert’s letter to the editor of the New York Times in response to Michael Behe’s recent creationist Op-Ed. Behe quoted Alberts describing his early impressions of the cell as a beautiful machine–which Behe takes as evidence that it really is a machine built by someone.

Alberts responds:

In “Design for Living” (Op-Ed, Feb. 7), Michael J. Behe quoted me, recalling how I discovered that “the chemistry that makes life possible is much more elaborate and sophisticated than anything we students had ever considered” some 40 years ago. Dr. Behe then paraphrases my 1998 remarks that “the entire cell can be viewed as a factory with an elaborate network of interlocking assembly lines, each of which is composed of a set of large protein machines.”

That I was unaware of the complexity of living things as a student should not be surprising. In fact, the majestic chemistry of life should be astounding to everyone. But these facts should not be misrepresented as support for the idea that life’s molecular complexity is a result of “intelligent design.” To the contrary, modern scientific views of the molecular organization of life are entirely consistent with spontaneous variation and natural selection driving a powerful evolutionary process.

In evolution, as in all areas of science, our knowledge is incomplete. But the entire success of the scientific enterprise has depended on an insistence that these gaps be filled by natural explanations, logically derived from confirmable evidence. Because “intelligent design” theories are based on supernatural explanations, they can have nothing to do with science.

Bruce Alberts
President
National Academy of Sciences

Nuff said.

[Thanks to Pharyngula among others.]

Comments

  1. #1 Seth
    February 13, 2005

    Honestly, I am a fairly strict darwinian evolutionist, and have always cast aside any arguments that even HINT at the idea of design or any sort of ‘supernature’when discussing biological evolution. I would even conisder myself a “Bright” in this way; and I would not be upset to be (confidently) embraced by the Dennet-Dawkins camp of religious eliminativism. And finally, I will put one more qualifying statement forward, which is that I am well aware that Behe has been nationally ‘recognized’ as one of the few scientists (biologists) who supports the idea of ID, but [Behe] would also be quick to tell you that Design is NOT actually what, Stephen J. Gould, Ernst Mayr, and Carl Zimmer would have you think it is: a sort of murky, thinly veiled stepchild of creationism. That is, while Design has been embraced as a sort of saving-face, happy-medium theory for former creationists who realize that being “too creationist” will not get them anywhere in the political and academic realms, the true merits of Design have likewise been given a ‘bad name’, even bastardized, by these Creationist groups, who may even be former bible literalists. In other words, someone messed with Design and here’s what it really is: Deisgn IS and CAN BE divorced from creationism because it is a more a theoretical SKEPTICISM about the definitiveness of Darwinian natural selection as the sole explanateur of ALL biological evolution RATHER THAN, in and of itself, a definitve, proclamation of a newm, all-encompassing way of biological ‘evolution’ as creationism certainly is. Behe might even add that Deisgn is almost a deflationist view of Darwinian evolution: that natural selection could not possiblly tell us the whole story and we should not be satisfied with the ‘incompleteness’ or ‘intangibility’ of natural selection, including its past products. And, in a way, I kind of like this: I didn’t have a violent and visceral gut reaction with Behe’s explanation of Design in this Op-Ed as I have with virtually every other explanation I have heard (albeit, they are usually linked with vocal proponents of creationism which leads to my immediate rejection and withdrawl from interest). So, I’m wondering, why is this the case?

    I think I found some of Behe’s arguments in the NY Times fascinating, because they addressed some of the philosophical and epistemological issues surrounding Design. I would like to know other peoples’ responses, and particularly Carl’s, because I was intrigued by the persuasiveness of some of his defenses, his four claims of Design outlined in the piece.

    1) First, let’s address an ideas that is absolutely ludicrous (in the framework of a Darwinist) and was particularly UNPERSUASIVE for me: the idea that because a cell works like a ‘little machine’, we should and can infer that it likely came about in a mechanical and designed way (like a clock); that because it ‘looks’ desinged, it is not convincing enough for the Design-folks that it came about by random mutations, time and selection pressures. There must have been something else at work in its evolution. The thing that is not convincing to me, is the idea that the clock COULDN’T have come about by natural selection– why not? Why is the complexity of something a turn-off for intelligent design proponents? Why is this same argument not made for something more simple in biological evolution, like the origin of hominid bipedalism? Could that have been ‘designed’ or would the designer not have wasted his or her time with that? So, I as you can see, I’m not a Deisgn apologist by any means.

    2) But, as I mentioned above, there were some epistemologically-oriented claims in the Behe piece that WERE more convincing. Mainly, why SHOULD we assume that Darwinian natural selection can explain all of biological evolution? Is it because we do not have other assumptions that are plausible, yet? I mean isn’t it possible that evolution occurred, as Design proponents believe, by ‘other’ or ‘additional’ means than random mutation and reproductive succes? The Western empircist in me want to say NO, NO, NO, but now I’m asking Why not, Why not, Why not. The reason, of course, that (at least) this sentiment of mine should resonate with any student and historian of science, is that in science, at any given point in time (X), we do not have the complete picture of a process under investigation. We can say that in 2005 about ‘the cell’ in cell biology. Even more importantly, at point X, we might not even have the knowledge of how to approach our question of interst. For example, when neuroscientists examine the biological basis of human consciousness–for those who know about current thought
    (http://assc.caltech.edu/index.htm)– they wrestle with, initially, an entirely systemic and confusing series of epistemological questions that might even be a necessary and maybe undervalued part of our ‘pre-science’ (for philosophers of science, read: http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/feyerabe.htm)
    In other words, does finding a ‘neural correlate of consciousness’ HAVE to be the only neurobiological method of exploration that will satisfy our empiricist/rationalist intuitions?
    Why are empiricists/Darwinists/rationalists SO opposed to the idea that other means of evolution, perhaps those that might even make an addition to random mutation and reproductive fitness, are still in the process of evolution themselves? Could evolutionary theory be in some sort of pre-science stage? I mean, my inclincation is to say no, but how do I know this? We have seen quite often that the ultimate ‘victor’, like the Galileo, the Stanley Prusiner (prions), or the Barry Marshall (http://vianet.net.au/~bjmrshll/, Helicobacter and ulcers), are often the initial outcasts in their peer communities for asking WHY when everyone else says THIS IS IT.

    So, if we can successfully divorce Intelligent Deisgn from Creationism, which it should be (if we closely follow my above epistemological defenses), and hopefully even give it a new name literally and figuratively, should we be so quick to rule out Michael Behe?

    I would love to hear feedback on this.

  2. #2 Charlie Wagner
    February 13, 2005

    There is also the possibilty that Dr Alberts is just giving himself some political cover because he doesn’t want to get drawn into an emotional public debate on the subject and he wants to protect his credibility as a scientist. This has become an “you’re either with us or you’re with the creationists” issue. I’ve often encountered this attitude when trying to discuss evolutionary issues with professional scientists. As soon as you mention the subject, the response is just like Alberts: “modern scientific views of the molecular organization of life are entirely consistent with spontaneous variation and natural selection driving a powerful evolutionary process…anything else?” And there it ends. They just don’t want to talk about their personal opinions in public.
    My experiene tells me that there are not a few scientists who see more in evolution than random, accidental processes, but are afraid to express those feelings publicly because they don’t want to give aid and comfort to religious creationists.
    Unfortunately, this has a chilling effect on open scientific discussion of these issues and is not helpful to the advancement of science.

  3. #3 Charlie Wagner
    February 13, 2005

    Carl,
    I wrote the following letter to the New York Times regarding your article on moles last Tuesday. I don’t know if they show you the letters, but here it is:

    “Carl Zimmer has written an incredibly interesting and informative article (Feb 8 “Underground Gourmet: Mole Sets A Speed Record) but unfortunately he felt compelled to offer in addition to the factual description, an evolutionary explanation that is nothing more than a just-so story.
    Dr. Catania’s interpretations that these adaptations are the result of geographical parameters and energy requirements are without empirical support and are nothing more than speculation. Absent intelligent input, nothing short of magic, evolution pixies or a miracle could explain the highly organized structures and processes that are observed in this organism.
    From reading Zimmer’s articles and books, it is clear that he has a strong evolutionary bias, but his work would be more palatable if he kept this bias out of his science articles.”

    Charlie Wagner
    http://enigma.charliewagner.com
    http://www,charliewagner.com

  4. #4 Carl Zimmer
    February 13, 2005

    Dear Charlie:

    Re Bruce Alberts: He can speak for himself, which he just has.

    Re my supposed bias: Bias in scientific reporting would consist of writing an article about new findings that presents only one interpretation of evidence published in peer-reviewed literature, while ignoring other interpretations that have similarly earned serious attention. Dr. Catania’s research has been published in Nature, the world’s leading scientific journal, along with many leading neuroscience journals.

    The claim that the star-nosed mole must be the result of “intelligent input” as you put it has received *no* such interpretation.

    If it is biased to ignore this claim, it would be biased to ignore the possiblity that aliens put the star-nosed moles on Earth 200 years ago.

    And similarly, you could also say I have a strong bias in favor of continent drift. It would be an equally meaningless statement.

  5. #5 Charlie Wagner
    February 13, 2005

    Carl,
    Thanks for replying to me. I am not advocating that you should have included an intelligent design interpretation in your article. You should not have. I believe that in science reporting, you should stick to the facts and avoid unsupported speculation, which is what I objected to.
    Dr Catania’s interpretation that “the new results support the idea that the star evolved as an adaptation for super-efficient feeding” and “it emerged when the ancestors of star-nosed moles first moved into wetlands…(because) compared with dry soil, wetlands are loaded with small insect larvae, which could become a good source of energy for a mole, but only if the animal used a very small amount of energy to find them.” is nothing more than a just-so story that ties these adaptations into an already existing darwinian paradigm. They lack any empirical support and his findings, while interesting, do not support this interpretation.
    My hope would be that all such speculative interpretations, both intelligent design and darwinian selection would be excluded from science articles. There’s more than enough interesting stuff that is grounded in observational and experimental evidence and there is not a shred of evidence that darwinian selection or intelligent design played a role. Let the reader decide for himself which interpretation is correct.
    Just a further point, if you will allow me. It is also my opinion that these kinds of interpretations should be eliminated from peer-reviewed articles that are published in journals. The data should be presented, and the readers should be free to apply whatever interpretations they see fit. This may generate much discussion and disagreement, but the article itself should include only the data.
    In addition, I extend these views to the teaching of science in public schools and colleges. There is enough factual information available to keep any student busy. Intelligent design should not be taught as science in any school, nor should darwinism. Discussed, perhaps, but not taught. And there is a difference. As a teacher for 33 years I assure you that most good teachers understand the difference between teaching something and discussing it.

  6. #6 Wesley R. Elsberry
    February 13, 2005

    Seth,

    Look to the history of biology. There have been quite a number of teleological conjectures floated. Orthogenesis, arisotgenesis, bathmism, and variants of Lamarckism all share a common quality: when it came to the empirical evidence, they failed to correspond with this reality. Compare that to the endosymbiotic theory. Now, the endosymbiotic theory by no means was accepted by acclamation on announcement. There were quite vociferous claims and counterclaims. But here is where Margulis and Behe part ways: Margulis presented a theory that wasn’t just “not this, therefore that”, came up with evidence in support of her theory, and presented it to the community of biologists for consideration. It’s pretty easy to distinguish between the two that way, isn’t it? Note, too, that endosymbiosis is quite a ways away from the “random mutation and reproductive fitness” scenario that you cite, so it also is a disproof of the claim that anything else is automatically locked out. Teleology in biology has a long track record of abject failure, and it is naive to think that this will not be a factor in initial views on a teleological proposal in biology.

    Maybe someone will come up with a theory that adds something to current evolutionary mechanism theories and that addresses the phenomena that exercize current ID advocates. What we can be pretty sure will characterize this new bit of science will be that it proposes specific mechanisms leading to the phenomena of interest, that it proposes tests such that evidence will be gathered where these mechanisms must have been at work, and that it won’t require that we re-write the rules of science just to admit it. Behe is out on all three of these criteria.

    What are those rules of science, you might ask? Just that the concepts must be amenable to inter-subjective review and criticism, and that the evidence that we are able to observe or measure must effect its truth value. Stuff that is premised on personal revelation or untested lore is out. Stuff that it doesn’t matter what the evidence is doesn’t cut it. These are the rules that were put together by the community of scientists in the 19th century, who were almost to a man (women being pretty rare in the field those days) theists, not materialistic atheists. Would that the modern crowd of ID advocates had a good grasp of the reasons why those theist scientists of the 19th century specifically molded science such that it was no longer “theistic science”.

    Now, I’ll have to take exception to some particular statements in the original comment that Seth wrote. (1) Michael Behe is a biochemist, not a biologist. (2) “Intelligent design” certainly is no stepchild of creationism. It is a full-blooded purebred offspring of creationism. Please read Forrest and Gross’s Creationism’s Trojan Horse (CTH) until the irrefutable case made there sinks in. There is no content in ID advocacy that wasn’t already present in “scientific creationism” (SciCre). ID simply applies more Wite-Out. (3) Biblical literalists are part and parcel of the ID advocacy community and are not people whose unfortunate presence mars the message. The DI CRSC Fellows, for example, include young-earth creationists. See, again, CTH for more information. (4) Biologists have long known that natural selection is not the entire cause of evolutionary phenomena. This goes back to Darwin. Darwin, though, attributed most of evolution to natural selection, but we know from molecular evidence that on the scale of genes and proteins, most evolution happens via genetic drift. The ID fixation on “Darwinist” this and “Darwinian” that is just a ploy not to engage all of evolutionary biology.

    Seth does correctly peg ID as simply criticisms of evolutionary biology. It is a movement with no substance of its own and is comprised entirely of negative argumentation, pretty much completely borrowed or derivative.

    CTH home page: http://www.creationismstrojanhorse.com/

  7. #7 Gary Hurd
    February 14, 2005

    Whenever I read or hear someone start an argument with the word “Honestly” I tend to check my wallet and my credullity. When the topic is creationism, and I hear terms tossed about like “strict darwinian evolutionist” I know it is time to pull on some wading boots. And sure enough, they are needed to get through friend Seth’s comment.

    What could a “strict darwinian” be? It is not obvious that Darwin would have fit the bill that creationists use to load the word “darwinism.” Darwin’s surviving contribution to modern biology can be paraphrased (if thousands of pages can be reduced) to the notion that natural selection acting on inheritable variability between members of a population leads to the diversity of species from common ancestors. Darwin largely thought the source of that inheritable variability to be akin to the Larmarkin hypothesis that adaptation directly altered an organism’s germ plasm. He was wrong on that, as he was about other specifics. Modern biology is quite distant from Darwin’s thinking in many ways. So a self-labeled “strict darwinian evolutionist” is a dubious source of illumination regarding evolution. Illumination in fact comes up with mention of a fatuous suggestion attributed to Dawkins that supporters of his sociopolitical agenda refer to themselves as “Brights,” I suppose to distinguish them from “dims.” Dawkins uses acceptence of evolutionary biology as a dividing line. Certainly nobody I consider to be bright (intelligent) is likely to prance about sporting such a label. But, it seems particularly irritating to creationists and its use here serves to identify Seth’s interests in the evo/creato debate as a political partisan- and not one allied with Dawkins in the least.

    The sole position advanced by intelligent design creationists is that the source of genetic variability can not be solely attributed to mutation, and the residue is the result of Divine intervention. There is nothing original in this; it was proposed by 1970s and 1980s creationists (e.g. C. B. Thaxton, Walter L. Bradley, R. L. Olsen “The Mystery of Life’s Origin.” New York: Philosophical Library 1984, which Thaxton and Bradley reprised for J. P. Moreland, (ed.) “The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for the Intelligent Designer.” Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994). There are draped about this a number of “it aint so” type claims about the inadequacy of evolutionary theory (Phillip Johnson, Jonathan Wells) undistiguished from similar “old-school” creationists, and quasi-mathematical obfuscation (William Dembski).

    There is nothing new here aside from an active public denial that intelligent design creationism (IDC) is religiously motivated, and that the Intelligent Designer is none other than the Judeo-Christian diety. This is belied by the repeated contrary statements of all key intelligent design proponents (including every one mentioned above).

    The only feature of the IDC position that is slightly original is the one that friend Seth refered to as “absolutely ludicrous” and “particularly UNPERSUASIVE.” This is of course the notion advanced by Behe that there are “irreducibly complex” cellular “machines” and that these are prima-facie demonstrations of design. This is reworked by Dembski into “specified complexity.” Demonstration that this claim is false would take far more than my currnetly avialable time and patience, but the interested reader should consult http://www.talkdesign.org/ TalkDesign.org, or the several good books recently published:

    Mark Perakh
    2003 “Unintelligent Design” New York: Prometheus Press

    Niall Shanks and Richard Dawkins
    2004 “God, the Devil, and Darwin: A Critique of Intelligent Design Theory” Oxford University Press

    Robert T. Pennock (Editor)
    2001 “Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological, and
    Scientific Perspectives” MIT Press

    Matt Young, Tanner Edis (Editors),
    2004 “Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism” Rutgers University Press

    Barbara Carroll Forrest, Paul R. Gross
    2004 “Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design” Oxford University Press

    Seth concluded his mini-thesis with “I would love to hear feedback on this” which may well be his principle motivation for writing. In that case, he is gratified.

    Gary S. Hurd

    Self disclosure- I was a contributer to Young and Edis (2004)

  8. #8 Seth
    February 14, 2005

    Wait a second here, wait a second here. In all fairness, I am a little new to the online blog atmosphere:) (my start with ‘honestly’ in the first post was more a function of the hour of the night then me trying to be politically persuasive or anything like that:).

    My original post is very hard to read and poorly written, so thanks for having mercy:).

    I am actually a student who is just very interested in this topic with tons of ideas floating around. As a high school science teacher the past two years, I was often confronted with these issues and became very interested to see what kind of academic and other work was being done in this arena—the other night, I really used the open space on The Loom to begin to tease out some ideas, albeit, very haphazardly!

    I wanted to begin to relate my knowledge about this debate to some more formal ideas in the philosophy of science. As an amateur, I wanted to begin to talk about evolution and Design in the context of more formal concepts in philosophy of science.

    I did not mean to put anyone’s defenses up! Likewise, I do not want to put myself into a hole, here, I’m not out for any mission here, just learning!

    I apologize (and thank very much!) Gary and Wesley for their comments–I want Gary to be able to take off those wading boots– I’m an allright guy, I don’t have an ID-apologist mission. I probably should have used an open MS Word document page, rather than The Loom, to try to make some things clear in my head. Also, thanks, Gary for the link http://www.creationismstrojanhorse.com/). It sounds like an excellent read.

    Anyway, my initial impetus for writing was simply this: I wasn’t sure what to think after Behe’s article, probably out of ignorance. I have done research in biochemistry and biophysics, and have never even questioned my scientific method-oriented approach to basic science before. So how could even some of what Behe wrote make sense to me?

    In the lab, we always ask questions like this: are my experiments reproducible? Yes. Does their set-up rely on accepted, peer-reviewed knowledge to push forward new knowledge? Yes. Do they use a form of logic to make make a conlusion about a hypothesis (if this is set-up this way, and this variable is controlled for, then this is what happens)? Yes.

    When I called myself a “strict Darwinian evolutionist” it was my naive way of saying that I have always believed research into ‘evolution by natural selection’ relies on these tenets: reproducibilty, peer-review acceptance, scientific method, etc. And so how in the world could any scientist, trained in this way, be an Intell. Design proponent when there is no substance, no reproducibility, etc.

    Gary says it very well with,”Maybe someone will come up with a theory that adds something to current evolutionary mechanism theories and that addresses the phenomena that exercize current ID advocates….what we can be pretty sure will characterize this new bit of science will be that it proposes specific mechanisms leading to the phenomena of interest.” I loved this idea. I’m not waiting for it by any means:), but I like how can talk about what those additional theories might look like.

    Finally, I really like the sociopolitical agenda of the Brights. I really think the ideas and the movement are great, help to promotes humility, and would have LOVED to share some of the ideas with my students when I was in the classroom. I am SO sorry, truly for coming off in the way I did as a self-illimunator, as Gary put it! Its so ironic because I really feel quite the opposite: I never prance about with titles and I really used the whole movement terribly in my first post. Sorry again!

  9. #9 Charlie Wagner
    February 14, 2005
  10. #10 gaebolga
    February 15, 2005

    Seth,

    Don’t bother wasting your time on Charlie’s screeds; I’ll give you the short version. Basically, Cahrlie thinks that dogs are like airplanes becasue they’re both complicated “machines.” Since dogs are like airplanes and airplanes require intelligent design, then dogs – and, by extension, all life – require intelligent design.

    Of course, the first time I asked Charlie to explain why the fact that dogs can reproduce and airplanes can’t was irrelevant to his argument, he said that since he had developed the argument, he got to set the parameters. Now he just ignores me, because he knows he has no logical answer for the question.

    But it kind of demolishes his theory, and I notice that since then he’s stopped trying to claim that he’s “never seen anyone demolish this theory.” Coincidence?

    Probably….

  11. #11 Gary Hurd
    February 15, 2005

    Seth, If I was too quick on the trigger it was because I have grown very tired of concesions made to creationists by people who ought to know better.

    For example, you said earlier that, “Mainly, why SHOULD we assume that Darwinian natural selection can explain all of biological evolution?” And you answered yourself, “I mean isn’t it possible that evolution occurred, as Design proponents believe, by ‘other’ or ‘additional’ means than random mutation and reproductive succes?”

    There are several errors in just two sentences. First, nobody in biology asserts that Darwinian selection solely accounts for biological evolution. This has certainly not been the case since the 1930-40s, and was hardly the case even earlier. Second, the notions of selection, and of inheritable traits are not “assumptions” but were first advanced as hypotheses regarding observedable data. These hypotheses have withstood over 150 years of hostile examination and testing.

    Finally, Intelligent Design Creationists do not simply argue that evolution occured by “other means.” They state categorically that evolution could not occur without the supernatural intervention of some creator. Their creator of choice is the Judeo-Christian-Islamic Deity which they maintian doesn’t make them religious, so long as they won’t admit it in court.

    Intelligent Design Creationism has not been “bastardised” by more overt (perhaps more honest?) creationsts- it is merely exposed.

  12. #12 Jari Anttila
    February 15, 2005

    As I see it, any significant evolutionary mechanism, intelligent or not, has to be effective billions of years. Obviously the dumb processes of mutation and selection do meet that requirement, but the only kind of intelligence we so far have evidence of, i.e. humans, doesn’t seem a likely candidate.
    If evolution was somehow intelligently pre-programmed or guided, the agent in question either had practically infinite wisdom or infinite endurance, or both. How’s that distinguishable from God?

  13. #13 Charles Winder
    February 16, 2005

    Dr Catania’s interpretation that “the new results support the idea that the star evolved as an adaptation for super-efficient feeding” and “it emerged when the ancestors of star-nosed moles first moved into wetlands…(because) compared with dry soil, wetlands are loaded with small insect larvae, which could become a good source of energy for a mole, but only if the animal used a very small amount of energy to find them.” is nothing more than a just-so story that ties these adaptations into an already existing darwinian paradigm. They lack any empirical support and his findings, while interesting, do not support this interpretation.
    My hope would be that all such speculative interpretations, both intelligent design and darwinian selection would be excluded from science articles. There’s more than enough interesting stuff that is grounded in observational and experimental evidence and there is not a shred of evidence that darwinian selection or intelligent design played a role. Let the reader decide for himself which interpretation is correct.

    Charlie, you are wrong to equate such “just-so stories” with supernatural explanations, and demand their banishment from science. Such hypotheses are absolutely NOT just offhand guesses, meant to settle the debate, and they are generally based on volumes of prior knowledge of the system at hand. To say that such statements lack any empirical support is just ignorant. You should think of such “just-so stories” as setting up testable hypotheses about the real world, since our goal is, after all, to figure out what’s going on in the real world. This intelligent design nonsense really is a “just-so story,” with the sole purpose of stifling further investigation into nature, and, as it exists, it sets up no testable hypotheses.

  14. #14 Homo ignoramus
    February 17, 2005

    Charlie, do you not believe in extrasolar planets? I used to, but after reading your posts above regarding speculation and paradigms and Carl’s shameful journalism I have now changed my mind. All this speculation about extrasolar gravity and electromagnetism just makes me laugh. Heck, I’ve discovered that I can no longer read a great many of the science stories that I come across without rolling my eyes at their servile devotion to mainstream dogma. And all those poor students who had to learn Newtonian mechanics would have been so much more productive when they were later formulating quantum mechanics and general relativity if they’d just discussed the Principia instead.

    No, I think maybe the facts should, after all, be made to fit together somehow if we want to make any sense of the universe. Should we ever proclaim, “This is the complete theory!”? No, never. Of course there are always going to be things we haven’t observed or thought of yet; many professional scientists actually count on it. We do have to pursue our ideas, though. Even if your zany hypothesis is somehow shown to be true–designer forbid–that still doesn’t mean that we were wrong to explore exhaustively our understanding of evolution. The exploration has revealed many interesting things to us, and there is still no clear data that suggest we are way off the mark (while there is much that indicates we might be on to something). I suppose that it would not be helpful for everybody to automatically assume that any given explanation for a set of observations must be correct, but there has to be some point at which certain alternatives are regarded–at least provisionally–as being dismissible. If someone wants to do some real experiments that lend support to some version of ID (and note that this is not equivalent to simply casting doubt on previous results obtained by “Darwinists”, etc.), then that’s great. Doing thought experiments with mousetraps and flagella and washing machines and daughters and airplanes and dogs just doesn’t cut it. That’s all fine if we’re down the pub and a few pints in, but you have to expect a little bit of unfriendly shouting in sober life when you suggest that we bastardize the practice and teaching of science on account of your currently scientifically useless ideas.

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